The Teddington Gardener

Hounslow Wonder and other apples….

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An apple a day…
‘Tis the season, almost, of mellow fruitfulness and home-grown fruit has to be one of the best rewards for our gardening efforts. If you haven’t already made room in your plot for a fruit tree, now is the time to start thinking about what kind of tree, which variety and doing some taste testing too.
Commercial fruit growing is driven by appearance and the storage ability of the fruit, rather than flavour. As a result, only six or so varieties of apples and two or three pears dominate our supermarket shelves, despite there being over two thousand apple cultivars alone in the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale (www.brogdale.org).
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From garden centres and specialist fruit nurseries, there are hundreds to choose from, many of which date back hundreds of years and many of these knock the supermarket offerings for six.
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Taste should be the first consideration when choosing a fruit variety.  I’ve walked through the lines of trees at RHS Wisley and scrumped many apples during the past ten years and not all are to my taste. Over the coming months, at Wisley too, there will be fruit festivals across the country and they are the perfect places to try out some of our old cultivars – an new introductions – before deciding what to buy. It is quite a revelation to discover fruit with so much flavour – and such variety of flavour too – unlike the ordinary offerings from the supermarkets.
After taste, space is the next thing to consider. By choosing the right variety, rootstock and method of growing, even in the smallest of gardens, it is possible to grow apples, even creating your own mini orchard.
The top part of your tree is the section that governs what variety of fruit is produced. This is grafted onto a rootstock which controls the vigour of the tree. The classification for apples I admit is not very clear, but every tree should be labelled with the name of the rootstock. As an example, M27 is the rootstock producing the smallest trees, less than 2m, and ideal for step-over apples, ballerinas and cordons. M9 and M26 are successively larger but still suitable for smaller gardens.
Which rootstock you opt for will depend on the crop you want to grow, how large you want it to become and your soil conditions. I’ve put further details, from the RHS website, further along in this post.
Pollination is also a factor if the variety you choose is not self-fertile – some varieties fruit well on their own, others need another tree of a different variety, or even a third variety, to help pollinate the flowers. With apple trees, there tends to be enough trees in the neighbourhood to do the job for you but for those that need more than one companion, it is best to be sure. These varieties are called triploids. Of course, crab apples might do the job just as well and there are so many of these ornamental trees to consider that have great blossom, highly decorative fruits and good autumn colour. Some even have culinary uses – for crab apple jelly
Trees can be planted in borders and as specimens in lawns – they can also be grown in pots.  Fruit grown in containers will need a little more attention than those grown in open ground, but there are great options for small gardens. The less-vigorous rootstocks are all suitable for container growing, restricting height to around 2m, but a good pot is essential. A diameter of at least 50cm is necessary and it is best to avoid those with narrow bases as they are more likely to be blown over in windy weather. A good compost such as John Innes No. 3 is best – it holds on to moisture and doesn’t dry out making re-wetting difficult, and it holds on to any fertiliser you will be adding. Also it is heavy!
You may need to stake the tree to stop the roots rocking in the fresh compost and you are its only hope for food and water and you may need to water several times a week during warmer sunnier weather. Feeding every few weeks during the growing season will keep your plants healthy. A balanced liquid feed like seaweed will be just the thing.
In open ground, planting in the autumn, while the soil is still warm, will give new plants a chance to explore the ground around them, putting out new roots and anchoring themselves before winter sets in. They will get the best start then the following Spring.
Top apple choices
Scrumptious –  superb red apple variety that is self-fertile, frost hardy – even when in flower – and disease resistant. The fruit is thin skinned, aromatic and can be eaten straight from the tree.
Red Falstaff – another self-fertile variety that has crisp, juicy apples with well balanced flavour and red flushed skin. Very high yields and stores well.
James Grieve – a sharp taste initially, making it great as a cooking apple, then, as it matures on the tree, it transforms into a beautifully mellow fruit. Good for juicing too.
Discovery – straight from the tree, this has to be one of the best tasting apples… Needs a companion tree for both to fruit.
Katy – a mid-season apple that is crunchy, juicy and also has an amazing, yet subtle strawberry flavour.
For pears –
Concord is a reliable heavy cropper, a mid-season dessert variety that keeps well through the winter.
Doyenne du Comice is a fine dessert pear
Williams Bon Chretien – Williams pears – is an old variety with large, sweet, smooth and very juicy fruits which turn yellow when ripe.
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The following details are taken from the RHS website (www.rhs.org.uk). There is some duplication with my notes above, but it is worth persevering and getting your choice of tree just right!

With so many different apple trees available to buy, it can be confusing knowing which is the right one for you.

Important considerations include:

Garden size: If size is no restriction, choose a standard or half-standard tree. These give the best yields. If size is an issue, consider a dwarf-bush, pyramid, cordon or stepover. These all can be grown in a small space, or even in a pot. Alternatively, train apples as espaliers or fans. You can also buy ‘family’ trees. These have three cultivars grafted onto one tree. They may be a good choice where there is not enough space for more than one tree.  But beware: the different cultivars may grow at different rates, with the most vigorous taking over unless careful pruning is practised.

Dessert (eating) or culinary (cooking): The majority of apple cultivars are either dessert or culinary, although some are dual-purpose (these are seldom excellent for either use). Many culinary apples become sweeter on storage, lending themselves to dessert use from late winter.

Storage: Some apples need to be eaten within a few weeks of picking, otherwise flavour and texture rapidly deteriorate, leading to wastage if the apples cannot be used fast enough. Apples that can be stored are easier to use without waste, but they can take up much storage space.

Taste: Flavour is usually the most important consideration for most gardeners. Organised autumn ‘apple tasting’ events are a useful way to determine particular favourites. Unfortunately imported cultivars sold in supermarkets are from warmer countries, and have a different flavour when grown in Britain, even if they grow well, which is often not the case. The majority of fruit cultivars are developed by crossing two known parents and this allows the offspring to inherit certain flavour characteristics. If you know the parentage, you can get an idea of the flavour.

Disease resistance: Resistance to disease is another consideration which varies between cultivars, with modern types often having higher levels of resistance than traditional ones.

Pollination group: For the best yields, apples need pollination from a different cultivar that flowers at the same time. If you have a large enough garden, you can plant two different cultivars (pollination partners). But most gardeners do not have this luxury, so need to rely on pollen from a neighbouring apple tree.

Many fruit trees and some ornamentals are grafted onto rootstocks. These rootstocks control the vigour of the plant, allowing the cultivation of trees and bushes in a smaller space than if they were grown on their own roots.

Rootstocks are used to restrict the vigour of fruit trees and allow a range to grow in a small space. They can also contribute to the disease resisting abilities of the plant.

Rootstock choices

Apples

M27 (extremely dwarfing)

  • Suitable for: Dwarf pyramids, spindlebush or stepovers, for small gardens where the soil is fertile
  • Start fruiting: After two years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: Plants reach 1.2-1.8m (4-6ft) x 1.5m (5ft)
  • Growing conditions: Good weed and grass free soil. Water plants during drought. Unsuitable on poor soil and for weak cultivars
  • Staking: Permanently
  • Spacing: 1.2-1.5 (4-5ft) apart with 1.8m (6ft) between rows

M9 (dwarfing)

  • Suitable for: Bush, pyramid, spindlebush, cordons; an excellent stock for small gardens
  • Start fruiting: After two or three years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 1.8-2.4m (6-8ft) x 2.7m (9ft)
  • Growing conditions: Good weed and grass free soil. Water plants during drought
  • Staking: Permanently
  • Spacing: 2.4-3m (8-10ft) apart with 3.6m (12ft) between rows

M26 (dwarfing)

  • Suitable for: Bush, pyramid, spindlebush, cordon, espalier and is ideal for containers
  • Start fruiting: After two or three years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 2.4-3m (8-10ft) x 3.6m (12ft)
  • Growing conditions: Average soils including grassed orchards
  • Staking: Permanently
  • Spacing: 2.4-3.6m (8-12ft) with 4.5m (15ft) between rows

MM106 (semi-dwarfing)

  • Suitable for: All forms except standards
  • Start fruiting: After three or four years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 3-4m (10-13ft) x 4m (13ft)
  • Growing conditions: Tolerant of a range of soils including grassed orchards and poor soils. The most widely used rootstock, but unsuitable for small gardens.
  • Staking: 5 years; longer in exposed locations
  • Spacing: 3.6 (12ft) with 4.5m (15ft) between the rows

MM111 (vigorous)

  • Suitable for: standards and half standards
  • Start fruiting: After four or five years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 4-4.5 (13-15ft) x 4.5 (15ft) less on light soils
  • Growing conditions: Suitable for most soils including orchards in grass and on poor soils
  • Staking: Staking is not necessary if planted as a one year old but those planted as 2-3 year old trees need staking for the first 3 years
  • Spacing: 4.5m (15ft) apart with 6m (20ft) between rows

M25 (very vigorous)

  • Suitable for: Standards
  • Start fruiting: After five or six years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: +4.5 (15ft) x 6m (20ft)
  • Growing conditions: Most soils including orchards in grass and on poor soils. They are too vigorous for most gardens except where the soil is poor
  • Staking: Staking is not necessary if planted as a one year old but those planted as two- or three-year-old trees need staking for the first 3 years
  • Spacing: 6m (20ft)

Pears and Quinces

Quince C (dwarfing)

  • Suitable for: Cordon, bush, central leader
  • Start fruiting: After four years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 2.5-3m (6-10ft)
  • Growing conditions: Fertile, moisture retentive soil
  • Staking: Permanently
  • Spacing: 3m (6-10ft)

Quince A (semi-vigorous)

  • Suitable for: Fan, cordon, bush, central leader, half-standard, espalier
  • Start fruiting: After four years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 3-4.5m (10-15ft)
  • Growing conditions: Most medium to heavy fertile soils
  • Staking: Retain for five years
  • Spacing: 3-4.5m (10-15ft)

Plums, gages, damsons

Pixy (semi-dwarfing)

  • Suitable for: Cordon, dwarf bush
  • Start fruiting: Three or four years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 3-4m (10-12ft)
  • Growing conditions: Good light, loamy soil
  • Staking: Permanently
  • Spacing: 4m (12ft)

Peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, gages, damsons

Saint Julian A (semi-vigorous)

  • Suitable for: Bush, half standard, fan-trained
  • Start fruiting: After three or four years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 4.5-5m (14-18ft)
  • Growing conditions: heavy soils are tolerated
  • Staking: 5 years
  • Spacing: 5m (18ft)

Torinel (semi-vigorous)

  • Suitable for: Bush, half standard, fan-trained, good for containers
  • Start fruiting: After three or four years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 2.4-3m (6-10ft)
  • Growing conditions: loamy
  • Staking: Five years
  • Spacing: 3m (10ft)

Cherry

Gisela 5 or G5 (semi-dwarfing)

  • Suitable for: Bush, pyramid, fan
  • Start fruiting: Three or four years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 2.4-3m (8-10ft)
  • Growing conditions: Fertile, loamy soil
  • Staking: Permanently
  • Spacing: 2.7m (9ft)

Colt (semi-vigorous)

  • Suitable for: Bush, half standard, fans
  • Start fruiting: After three or four years
  • Ultimate height as trained as bush: 6m (20ft)
  • Growing conditions: Many soils tolerated including clay and light, chalky soils
  • Staking: Permanently
  • Spacing: 6m (20ft)

Apple Varieties…

Although more than 700 apples are listed in the RHS Plant Finder and in nursery catalogues, those with the RHS Award of Garden Merit are especially suitable for use in gardens. Ones that have proved especially reliable are:

Culinary (cooking) cultivars

Emneth Early (Early Victoria) AGM

  • Pollination group:Season of use: July-August Quality: Good Comments: Early to crop when other apples not yet ripe

Golden Noble AGM

  • Pollination group:Season of use: October-December Quality: Excellent Comments: Upright habit, reliable and easy to grow

Lane’s Prince Albert AGM

  • Pollination group:Season of use: November-March Quality: Excellent Comments: Small tree ideal for garden use

Bramley’s Seedling AGM

  • Pollination group: 3(T)  Season of use: November-March Quality: Excellent Comments: Large tree, best for larger gardens

Dumellers Seedling AGM

  • Pollination group: 4 Season of use: November-March Quality: Excellent Comments: High quality reliable, easy to grow cooker for late winter

Dual-purpose cultivars

Charles Ross AGM

  • Pollination group:Season of use: September-November  Quality: Good Comments: Good for dessert and cooking during autumn

Blenheim Orange AGM

  • Pollination group: 3(T) Season of use: November-January  Quality: Excellent Comments: Large tree, best for larger gardens.

Dessert cultivars

Discovery AGM

  • Pollination group:Season of use: August-September Quality: Fair Comments: Useful for when other apples not yet ready. Cannot be stored.

Laxtons Fortune AGM

  • Pollination group: 3 (B)  Season of use: September-October Quality: Excellent Comments: The best autumn dessert apple

Sunset AGM

  • Pollination group:Season of use: October-December Quality: Excellent Comments: Very reliable and heavy cropping

Egremont Russet AGM

  • Pollination group: 2 Season of use: October-December Quality: Excellent Comments: Reliable and good for storage

Kidd’s Orange Red AGM

  • Pollination group:Season of use: November-January Quality: Excellent Comments: Very reliable and heavy cropping

Fiesta AGM 

  • Pollination group: 3 Season of use: October-March Quality: Excellent Comments: Very reliable and easy to grow Cox’s type dessert apple to store for late winter

Pixie AGM

  • Pollination group:Season of use: December-March Quality: Excellent Comments: Very reliable and easy to grow Cox’s type dessert apple.  Small fruited.

Greensleeves AGM

  • Pollination group: 3 Season of use: September-November Quality: Good Comments: Easy to grow, reliable, Golden Delcious type apple

Falstaff AGM

  • Pollination group: 3 Season of use: October-January Quality: Excellent Comments: Easy to grow reliable apple for mid-winter

T = Triploid, needing two other pollinators B = Sometimes produces fruit alternate years if not pruned carefully (biennial)

Harvest time at RHS Wisley

Harvest time at RHS Wisley

One last comment – I cam across a fruit tree nursery last year – Orange Pippin Trees – and they obviously have a passion for all kinds of top fruit and the descriptions they give for each of the varieties are well worth spending some time reading. Such enthusiasm is really infectious!

http://www.orangepippintrees.co.uk

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